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Samantha McLean's heart swelled with happiness as she studied the sleek chestnut yearling circling the walking ring at Townsend Acres. The colt's breath misted in the crisp October early morning air, and his powerful muscles rippled under his copper coat. He trotted at the end of a longe line around the perimeter of the ring for the training groom, his neck arched as though he was aware of his four admirers, who were standing at the opening of the walled outdoor ring beside the training stables.
Samantha's lightly freckled face was bright as she watched. The red of her shoulder-length hair nearly matched the color of the graceful colt in the ring. She turned to the colt's half-owner, Ashleigh Griffen. "He"s looking good, isn't he?" she said, her voice full of excitement.
Ashleigh nodded and smiled. "'And he's learning so fast! I really wish I could spend more time over here to watch his progress. I thought it would be easier now that I'm in college, but it"s not. You're doing a great job with him, though, Sammy."
Samantha beamed at the compliment. She loved Wonder's Pride as if he were her own, and she was deliriously happy that Ashleigh had asked her to be the yearling's groom. She knew that Ashleigh still regretted that her family had to move away from Townsend Acres the year before. The Griffens had been the breeding managers at the huge Kentucky breeding and training farm for four years, but then they decided to buy their own small breeding farm on the other side of Lexington. Because there were no training facilities on their new farm, Ashleigh had to drive nearly twenty miles to Townsend Acres to visit her champion mare,Wonder, and oversee the training of her three-year-old filly, Fleet Goddess, whom Samantha also groomed and rode for workouts.
"I like the colt's movement," agreed Samantha's father, the assistant trainer at Townsend Acres. "Of course , I wasn't around to see Wonder in training, but I'd say Pride has his dam's potential."
"'More mature than she was at his age," said Charlie Burke. The old trainer pulled down the brim of his battered felt hat to shade his eyes from the morning sun. It had been with Charlie's help that Ashleigh had transformed Wonder from a sickly foal into a champion. "'Wonder had a rough first year-they didn't think much of her around the farm. It's different with this guy. Clay Townsend's maybe being a little too optimistic, though. This fella's got good energy and a nice straight leg, but no one will know if he's got Wonder's courage until he gets out on the track and into serious training."
"He's got courage," Samantha said firmly. "When he's in the paddock with the other yearlings, he definitely lets them know who's boss. No one pushes him around."
Charlie just scowled, but Samantha knew that didn't mean anything. The old trainer never let his real feelings show.
Samantha turned her attention back to the ring. Wonder's Pride was still striding easily on long, slender legs. Training on a longe fine was important in teaching a young horse to walk, trot, and. canter on command. From there, the yearling would be asked to do the same under tack, and then with a rider in his saddle. After that the horse would be taken out on the oval for more intensive training in preparation for competing on a racetrack.
The rays of sunlight slipping through the trees glinted off Pride's polished copper coat, accentuating the ripple of his muscles. With each bob of his head, his silky mane flew. At a year and a half, he still had some growing to do, but already he stood. close to sixteen hands. Samantha knew he was going to be a big horse.
"He's got all the right stuff, Charlie," Samantha called over to the old trainer, "and the bloodlines!"
"'I've seen some perfectly bred horses that were flops at the track," Charlie answered.
Ashleigh shook her head and laughed. "Charlie, you're just itching for another star, and you know he could be it!"
"We'll see," Charlie said. "So, did you work Fleet Goddess on the Keeneland track yesterday?" he asked Ashleigh.
"I breezed her a half mile and galloped her out another four furlongs. She was raring to go. I'd say she's ready for the race tomorrow."
"Sammy and I are driving over in the morning," Ian McLean said. "You're welcome to ride along with us, Charlie."
"Yup. Sounds good. Saves Ashleigh from coming over here to pick me up."
"And if Goddess wins tomorrow," Samantha said, "it"s on to the Breeders' Cup!"
"First she's got to win," Charlie reminded her.
Samantha didn't need to be reminded that there had been ups and downs for Fleet Goddess during the past year. The filly had started off her three-year-old season by winning two allowance races. Then Ashleigh had decided to point her toward the Triple Tiara, a series of races for fillies held in the late spring and early summer. But during a workout in April, Fleet Goddess had pulled a tendon. The injury had kept her out of training for a month, and she'd returned to the track just in time to win the last race of the Triple Tiara...Thoroughbred #06: Wonder's Yearling. Copyright © by Joanna Campbell. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.